A PHD? NO Say it Ain't So

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  • #1
A PHD!? NO! Say it Ain't So!

My background:
-undergrad in EE, finishing up a master's in EE (control systems).
-wanted to teach, didn't want to do a "3-5 year" (average time for EE PHD).
- I got really frustrated and discouraged in my life/studies recently, but got over it and am better than ever.
-figured I'd do the 8 months of teacher's college and try to teach some physics and math to high school students!

However, the thought struck me today.. PhD?
Here's my rationale:

Now my dilemma: I want to teach.. means teacher's college next year, of which I've already applied. I have an interest in physics; as really, engineering, is applied physics. Teaching high school physics or electrical engineering technology courses with a completed Master's was my plan.

However, I have my own place, want to get a bigger place someday, buy one within a few years, getting married this year, want to have kids within a few more years perhaps -- I need money, sooner rather than later.

So the problem is funding - I need at least say $20K (as I'll have to pay for my schooling + living).

If I'm not in grad studies, I could still TA (less pay than GA).

I'm looking for a full-time-ish (with flexible hours) job for next year to fund myself through teacher's college and get some experience at the same time. It's not easy, especially in the area I live in, though I do have a few prospects.

Today I came across a fellow PHD who was just in Master's level mechanical engineering student.. who got his scholarship transferred from Master's - PHD. I asked him why he decided to do umpteen more years of school, and he said "well I have it good, why would I want to leave"?

So... my supervisor and I both now have confidence in my so called "potential" ability - he would like me to continue to do my PhD if I like, continuing the current work (of which I'm now genuinely interested in, which is a requirement to pursue a PHD).

I have said no (not to him, only to myself), because it will take me 3-5 years, and I'm too late to apply for scholarships. As well, previously, and still to a bit now, doubt my research ability (but who's perfect?).

It seems that's not true if I "transfer" though, as my scholarship I have now would "transfer".

This really seems the "logical" conclusion right now... it would solve all my money problems for the next 2 years. That would be my maximum amount of funding from my federal scholarship, however (and I would imagine most other large scholarships in Ontario).

2 years to get a PHD in electrical engineering.. no problem.. right? ... right? HAH. I'll have to discuss it with my supervisor.

Anyway, I just thought to get anyone's thoughts on my possible career moves.. :)


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  • #2
If you want to teach beyond the HS level, you need a PhD, period. However, even though professors generally make more than HS teachers, it's not a career to get into based solely on financial reward, but you can make a good living, especially once you get tenure and get promoted to associate professor level. And since you want to teach, it would be a gratifying career outside of financial benefits. Also, you will have some research flexibility. Professors generally have a lot of scheduling flexibility and a good amount of time off, but most professors spend this time off working on their research.

There are options for a PhD in industry and government research also. However, in engineering, one can just as easily (or more easily) get an industry research position with just a master's. The physical sciences (such as physics and chemistry) is usually another story, and the PhD is the degree you need if you want to work in research. Usually to are limited to technician jobs with a bachelor's or master's.

And most PhD students are fully funded (tuition waivers and modest stipend for living expenses and housing) through RAs and TAs, but for master's students it is more difficult to get these positions. The stipend is not huge (around $17,000, but usually there's a good benefits package with health insurance and whatnot including dental and optical). 17,000 is enough to cover housing and food. If you live in a campus dorm or apartment the utilities, cable, and internet are usually included in the cost of housing. Also, you won't have to live on this meager income for too long (only about 3 more years or so if you have a master's already.) However, to get a tenure track faculty position you will need post-doc experience, and while post-docs pay better than TA/RA stipends, you won't be getting rich. But the post-doc salary varies depending on where it's at (government generally pays better than academia).

However, my bottom-line is this: You seem concerned about financial reward a PhD will bring. If this is your main reason for doing a PhD then don't bother. The reason you do a PhD is for a true passion for the subject matter. If you truly have that, then the 3 more years in PhD studies will be bearable, but keep in mind that if your pain interest is financial reward then there are wiser career paths.
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  • #3
Thanks for the advice.

I've also heard it's very hard (at least in Canada) to get a full time professor position at a University (competition is very high). I guess you'd have to be the "best of the best" to ensure a good chance :)

Well, the funny thing is, I considered the PHD because it was a solution to my money problems (now there's a strange statement.)

Teacher's college in Sept. will cost me $6K for 8 months (which I want to do). I need money to fund myself through that year -- part time teaching, semi-full time job, all seemed like options.

Doing the PHD at the same time would be better though - because it would be at the University, where my teacher classes would be anyway!

With my scholarship transferred to PHD, I'd get between 20K-35K total per year as a stripend. which is about 40% more than I'm making now.

Although I'm interested in my thesis subject now, I don't know if it would last the full 3 years it would probably take to finish the PHD. Then again, I could do 1 year, and if I decided I didn't like it, I could always just teach high school ;)

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